Kevin (HHH): It seems year after year, you're in the middle of the pack. That is, not good enough to drive deep into the playoffs and not bad enough to get a really high draft pick. What is the plan for next season?
Daniel (PTH): The plan for next season is up in the air, and that's the most interesting thing Hawks fans have been able to say in a long time. While blessed with the successful prime of Joe Johnson and a few sturdy playoff teams, Atlanta has never fielded a real contender. This season, Danny Ferry and the Hawks have assembled a competitive roster ripe with cap flexibility and moveable assets. Ferry's long-term goal is likely to make a splashy signing in free-agency or swing a trade for a superstar. Whether that will take place within the next year, I don't know. Whether Ferry will be cleaning out even more cap next year, I don't know. Whether Ferry is aiming for a younger roster with a more robust future, I don't know. The Hawks' three best players are in their primes. If Atlanta stays as currently constituted, they'll be competitive again. If Ferry goes against the tide and trades either Teague or Millsap, things might be different. What's important for Hawks fans, though, is that there is no pre-determined first round exit. There is no pre-determined playoff spot. Anything can happen over the next year, and that little bit of uncertainty is a welcomed lot of excitement.
Kevin: Taking a look into the advanced statistics, it seems you have three really good players in Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, and Al Horford. Horford, btw, looks like he may deserve a return engagement with the all-star team. That being said, there is kind of a drop off after those three. Are there a few other guys who you've been expecting to break out?
Daniel: You're definitely right that Teague, Millsap, and Horford are the Hawks' three main cogs. They make the offense go and Horford anchors an average-at-best defense. There aren't any stat-sheet stuffers outside of those guys, but it doesn't mean that Atlanta isn't getting meaningful minutes from their role players. Kyle Korver, for example, is crucial to the spacing of Atlanta's offense and has made a three-pointer in 83 consecutive games. DeMarre Carroll has shown a decent ability to spread the floor on offense, but he thrives off cuts and garbage points. Still, his main role is served as the team's premier perimeter defender. And I think most people have forgotten that 2012 sixth-man runner-up Lou Williams is on this team. He played in his first game since his season-ending injury last year and is sure to give Atlanta's offense an additional jolt, especially considering they've been searching for a reliable secondary ball-handler behind Teague.
Kevin: Thanks mostly to Teague, the Hawks rank third in the NBA with 243 helpers. Aside from his 9.9 per game, is there anyone else who can really drive the offense?
Daniel: I think, again, you have to look at Lou Williams. He's only played in one game so far this year (against Philadelphia) and he went 3-8 from the field. But once he gets back into the flow of things, he's a guy who can create his own offense and serve as a dependable ball-handler. He's not going to rack up many assists, but he's going to put pressure on the defense, and given the Hawks' spacing and constantly moving offense, that's always a good thing. In addition, Horford's prowess in the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop creates looks for a lot of other guys. There are a lot of moving parts in this offense and it's kind of a seize-the-opportunity thing. Everyone on the floor is going to get their shots if Teague and Horford/Millsap are on the floor together.
Kevin: What can you tell us about the rookies on the team, Pero Antic and Dennis Schroeder?
Daniel: Dennis Schröder is the guy Hawks fans are crazy about. He's not quite ready to shoulder consistent NBA minutes, but the signs are there and he's getting trial by fire as Teague's primary back-up point guard. He has great defensive potential with his long arms and huge hands and he's also a phenomenal passer. Once he gets adjusted to the speed of the NBA game and clears up some issues finishing around the rim, he'll be a real threat. There's a lot to like here and, before Teague came storming out of the gate, people were wondering if Schröder would replace Teague as Atlanta's primary point guard sooner rather than later. Antic, on the other hand, is a bit more of an established player. Not that he's better or that they're comparable, but he knows his role and won't be trying to overstretch things. The Macedonian may look extremely intimidating, but his real strength is as a stretch-four. He can shoot well out of the pick-and-pop and is a relatively mobile big. However, for a 6'11" guy, he's neither a great rebounder nor an effective defender.
Kevin: A hypothetical (one I ask nearly everyone) - assume the Hawks win the game tonight. What was the key factor?
Daniel: For the Hawks to beat the Heat, I'd say that Atlanta would need a big night from beyond the arc. If Korver can get some open looks early and some of the other guys like Carroll splash in a few, the Hawks have a chance. The Hawks' number one problem this year has been defense. Going up against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, that might be a little bit of an issue. Carroll and Cartier Martin will likely spend the most time guarding the two perennial all-stars, but I'm not sure how successful they'll be in that endeavor. If the Hawks were to win this game, it would be a high-scoring, fast-paced affair with big nights from Korver, Millsap, and Horford, as well as a low-turnover performance from Teague.
HHH would like to thank Daniel for his complete answers to our questions. Check out Peachtree Hoops to see just what kind of operation they're running over there. Remember to hit us up throughout the day for previews, features, and other refinements, including the game thread, going live an hour prior to tipoff.